The connected shopping experience – why retailers should embrace the online and offline channels

There is a retail world that exists in which smart mirrors and autopayments from mobile wallets or stock checks direct to your device occurs. The in-store experience has gone through many iterations over the years and today, your experience may sound something like this. Upon entering the store you’re greeted with a notification on your phone: ‘Don’t forget to pick up your online purchase from the click and collect desk’. The reminder, is nice, but the reason you popped into the store was to try on a shirt you saw online. Thanks to the retailer’s app feature, ‘See store availability’, you know that the item is in stock. You’re not keen on queuing for the changing rooms, fortunately, they a ‘smart mirror’ that quickly displays how the shirt would look. Next to your image in the mirror, you notice other recommended items that match the shirt. At checkout, you pick up your order and pay for the rest of your clothes with Apple Pay. Automatically, Apple Pay brings up your mobile wallet pass version of your loyalty card, which you forgot you had. You receive 20 extra loyalty points, but you got £10 off too.

It’s therefore no surprise that digital technologies and smartphones in particular, are emerging as the most significant sales impetus in the retail landscape. According to Forrester Research, “By 2021, digital assets will impact 55 percent of all European retail sales in some way, whether it’s direct digital transactions or digital influence on in-store sales (e.g. online research or email).” The UK market is particularly savvy in this respect; 83 percent of non-grocery or alcohol related purchases will be influenced by digital channels within three years. It’s clear that the retail sector is in the midst of a digital renaissance, in which high street retailers unable to respond to the challenge and opportunity of emerging technologies will be left behind. Ultimately, the in-store experience should be exactly as it’s defined: an experience, and this is especially true in a landscape where stories of store closures and reduced footfall are becoming all-too-familiar.

But, the outlook for high-street retailers doesn’t need to be so bleak. Savvy high street retailers like Zara and John Lewis have already made strong changes to attract today’s increasingly connected shoppers. Zara utilises AR in-store to help consumers visualise how products would look on them, while John Lewis uses the power of geofencing, a geolocation technique that detects when a customer is within 70 metres of a store, before automatically sending a push notification to ask the shopper if they’re planning to pick up their order. If the customer taps ‘yes’, a sales assistant will prepare the product before they reach the counter.

Not only do these technologies empower customers and provide an incredibly convenient and personalised experience, but the data collected from these touchpoints offers retailers valuable insights to produce even more targeted and personalised offerings or develop a loyalty strategy.

The power of the loyalty card Do you ever find yourself fumbling through your wallet to see if you actually have that store’s loyalty card on hand, only to find that they’ve actually forgotten it at home? in fact, 41 percent of consumers admitted that they often, or most always forget their loyalty cards at home. Now, loyalty cards and more can be stored within mobile wallets pre-installed on all smartphones, and there’s a strong appetite from consumers to use them, with 45% of them confirming that they have used mobile wallets in the past, and they want to use them more. With the ability to use mobile wallets in a variety of ways – such as loyalty cards, coupons and gift vouchers, it motivates consumers to head in-store to redeem the offer. For brands, mobile wallet passes also offer app-like engagement without the time and expense of building, maintaining and promoting an app.

**You get the value that you give ** Many luxury retailers like Tiffany’s are doing in-store retail well, despite consumers increasingly turning to online channels for shopping. Pure and simple, the in-store experience is so valuable to consumers.

High street retailers should take note of this and implement a similarly tailored retail strategy. But, of course not every retailer can provide a personalised in-store experience without the help of technology. Retailers can use AI to analyse behaviour patterns, which in turn will help them to predict what their customers are responding best to, at which times and on what channels. And by merging customer relationship management (CRM) data, such as recent purchase history, with in-the-moment data such as location, browsing activity and point-of-sale, retailers can unleash the ability to learn and act on what customers care about at a personal level.

**Please form an orderly queue? Not anymore ** As UK consumers we all know and respect the queuing system. In fact, research found we spend 52 days of our lives standing in them and not complaining about it. But let’s be honest, that doesn’t mean we enjoy it. Retailers such as Amazon are starting to introduce solutions that cut down or eliminate wait times altogether. And Co-op will be rolling out technology that allows shoppers to scan and pay for items on their smartphone while they shop, making it possible to walk right past the till queue.

Taking checkout-free technology further, IBM iX has developed RFID tags which are applied to products to forgo the use of barcodes. Instead, items are instantly detected and the user simply opens the retailer’s app on their phone, hovers their device over the reader on the checkout, and completes their purchase with a simple tap. The consumer benefits from greater convenience, while the retailer can better manage its stock through real-time monitoring across stores. They can also use the data gathered to help better understand what its customers are receptive to, offering relevant deals and products that would appeal the most.

Ultimately, the brands that will be able to hang onto their position on the high street will be those that place the consumer’s preferences at the centre of their strategy and create an innovative, and personalised experience that connects both the online and offline worlds.

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